Why Mesut Ozil Is Charting a Familiar Path

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Why Mesut Ozil Is Charting a Familiar Path
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Mesut Ozil is arguably the most highly scrutinized and controversial player on Arsenal's payroll.

And it's quite obvious why.

Ozil was the savior of a nearly disastrous summer in which Arsenal had not spent a single penny in transfer fees before his arrival. Indeed, his deadline-day deal represents the Gunners' only financial outlay of last summer's transfer window.

He is Arsenal's priciest signing, and it's not even close. Andrey Arshavin's £15 million fee is almost a third of the £42.5 million Real Madrid received for their playmaker.

Arsenal paid so much money for Ozil because of the position he plays in. He thrives as a central attacking midfielder, pulling the proverbial strings of the attack and using his extraordinary footballing intelligence to create chances for others.

It is important to remember, too, that Ozil was purchased during Arsenal's most tumultuous period of the season. They had just humiliatingly capitulated to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season and the club's fortunes already looked to be washing down the drain.

So Ozil walked into the Emirates with fairly high expectations.

The question of whether he has lived up to them thus far, and whether fans should care, is one of the most divisive among Arsenal fans. Some say that he has been fair too lackadaisical for a quick, physical league like the Premier League, while others make a statistical argument for his quiet efficiency.

via squawka.com

Though he has not created a single assist in 2014, the stats do cast a favorable glow upon Ozil's debut campaign.

via squawka.com

The first graphic displays selected statistics from this season and the second from his last season at Real Madrid. The key takeaway (discounting the ambiguous "performance score") is that Ozil's supposedly subpar performances for Arsenal have produced results remarkably similar to those that got him labeled as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.

That is even more remarkable considering the deficiencies that Clark Whitney astutely pointed out in his article explaining Ozil's unique profile.

When Ozil first emerged as a potential star at Schalke, he was barely post-pubescent; his body was typical of a 17-year-old athlete. The trouble is, he never developed the muscle—and with it, the strength and explosive turn of pace—that typifies professional athletes.

He gained some weight under Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, but still had the look of a footballing Oliver Twist: almost malnourished. In three full seasons in Spain he completed the full 90 minutes in just 25 Primera games, a testament to his lack of fitness.

As he approaches his 26th birthday and the athletic prime of his career, Ozil remains physically deficient.

The last statement is a bit misleading, as Ozil turned 25 in October. But, while he obviously has the body of an athlete, his stature is not like that of the typical English footballer.

Jack Wilshere, for example, is shorter than Ozil and much more stout. His physical power allows him to get stuck in and contribute in every area of midfield and attack.

With a lankier frame and virtually no grit to accompany his guile, Ozil is limited to calculated tactical decisions—much as Per Mertesacker relies on his ability to read the game to compensate for his utter lack of pace.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Whitney also points out that Ozil only completed 25 La Liga matches during three seasons at Real Madrid. Now he is forced to play the whole 90 minutes in almost every match.

In short, Ozil is not a typical Premier League player. But his case is hardly unique. One need not look beyond Arsenal to find an analogous case.

Robert Pires joined the club in 2000 to much fanfare after the departure of Marc Overmars, though without the record price tag. The eventual legend had a torrid time during much of his first season, struggling to adapt to a league played at a much faster speed and with more brutal challenges than Ligue 1.

Appropriately, John Cross of the Mirror mentioned Pires' initial amazement at the intense nature of the Premier League when Ozil made his debut against Sunderland.

I [Arsene Wenger] remember before his first game at Sunderland, I said to Pires, ‘Today you don’t start - you sit next to me. After half an hour, he said to me, ‘Is it always like that?’ And I said, ‘It can get worse!'

I thought there was a similarity with Pires, and I was going to put him [Ozil] on the bench.

Like Pires, Ozil is tall with a relatively slight build. Both are creators, though Ozil plays at a much slower pace and Pires used his speed more.

But the fact that the Frenchman transformed from a bewildered newcomer to a crucial cog in Arsenal's most aggressive and dynamic teams should massively encourage fans about Ozil.

The fact that he has produced what he has in his first season is commendable, if not quite satisfactory. Arsenal supporters are right in demanding more from him, especially after his effortless horror show last weekend against Liverpool.

Next season will be a much better indicator of Ozil's ability to thrive in England. Fans should take comfort in the fact that the course of his development is not unique.

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